Sunday, January 17, 2021

Wall Street Journal Article – “Eating to Live or Living to Eat?”

July 15, 2010 by  
Filed under Binge Eating, Body Image, HAES

This guest post is from Love 2 Eat in PA

On Tuesday, my husband showed me a really interesting article in the Wall Street Journal. It was called “Eating to Live or Living to Eat? Stomach vs. Brain: Discovering Why Some People Can Resist Dessert While Others Can’t” By Melinda Beck.

It was a really interesting article and I wanted to share some quotes with you…

Scientists have learned much more about how appetite works in the brain and “nowadays, scientists are using sophisticated brain-imaging technology to understand how the lure of delicious food can overwhelm the body’s built-in mechanism to regulate hunger and fullness, what’s called “hedonic” versus “homeostatic” eating.

Two conferences this week on obesity are each examining aspects of how appetite works in the brain and why some people ignore their built-in fullness signals. Scientists hope that breakthroughs will lead to ways to retrain people’s thinking about food or weight-loss drugs that can target certain brain areas.

“If you are of normal weight, your homeostatic mechanisms are functioning and controlling this region of the brain,” says lead investigator Dana Small. “But in the overweight group, there is some sort of dysfunction in the homeostatic signal so that even though they weren’t hungry, they were vulnerable to these external eating cues.”

Studies have found that a diet of sweet, high-fat foods can indeed blunt the body’s built-in fullness signals. Most of them emanate from the digestive tract, which releases chemical messengers including cholecystokinin, glucagon-like peptide and peptide YY when the stomach and intestines are full. Those signals travel up to the brain stem and then the hypothalamus, telling the body to stop eating.

There are plenty of other metabolic mysteries, too: Why are some “foodies” who get intense pleasure from eating able to stop when they’re full and others aren’t? Is the tendency to eat way past fullness genetic or learned behavior, and how much can it be changed?””

Here is what I found most fascinating, as this is what applies to where I’m at right now…

“Some of the most intriguing imaging studies have peered into the brains of people who have lost significant weight and kept it off through diet and exercise alone.

Angelo Del Parigi, a neuroimaging scientist, located 11 “post-obese” subjects who had dieted down to the lean range. In his studies for the National Institutes of Health’s diabetes research center in Phoenix, Dr. Del Parigi found that food still elicited strong responses in the middle insula and the hippocampus, brain areas involving addiction, reward, learning and memory.

This suggests that the temptation to see food as pleasure doesn’t go away. “Post-obese people are extremely prone to regain weight,” says Dr. Del Parigi. “The only way they have to counteract these strong predispositions is by having a very controlled lifestyle, with restrained food intake and exercise.”

He and his colleagues at the NIH have observed that in PET scans, too. In another study, 17 people who had successfully lost weight had more activity in the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain involved in impulse-control in response to food than people who were still obese.

In short, successful weight losers seemed to have having second thoughts about eating on impulse, says Dr. Del Parigi. “These people see a piece of pie that is very inviting, but they think, ‘No, I have to diet. Otherwise, I will become obese again. I will suppress that pleasure,’ ” he says.”

A sidebar to the article, was a poll called “The Power of Food Scale”.  Now that I have recovered from my compulsive overeating / bingeing, I found that my answers to the questions right now, compared to how I answered them a year ago, were very different.  This was a good thing.

However, I guess that is why, even though I’m basically recovered, according to this research, food/eating will always be somewhat of a struggle for me, for the rest of my life.

I kind of expected that to be the case, but now I’ve seen it in black and white.

If you want to read the article, here’s the link –



5 Responses to “Wall Street Journal Article – “Eating to Live or Living to Eat?””
  1. Meems says:

    I’m always uncomfortable with articles like this one because they’re depending on the assumption that fat people eat more than thin people, which very often isn’t the case. I spent most of my teen years slightly overweight and hit the low end of obese in my mid-20s. I have no problem resisting dessert – in fact, it’s my best friend (who is 2 inches taller and 40+ lbs lighter than I am) who has trouble not finishing that tub of Ben & Jerry’s.

    Of course “post-obese” people must live highly structured lives in order to maintain weightloss – they are most likely at a weight that is lower than their natural range. Someone who has always weighed, say 150 lbs. has a very different metabolism than someone who used to weight 300 lbs. and now weighs 150.

  2. I’m with Meems on this one, the assumption that eating too much is the reason someone is fat is very flawed. As is the assumption that if someone is normal weight, or thin, that they don’t eat large amounts of food.

    • love2eatinpa says:

      i agree with both of you. we all have different metabolisms and other things that affect our weight. i think the thing that stood out the most to me was that there is scientific evidence that some of us are sort of hard-wired to be really affected by the sight/smell/mention of food, while others aren’t. it would be awesome if they could find something to help us not be so affected by the sight/smell/mention of food. i know it would make my life easier. 🙂

  3. I really wish the article had not been written from a “overweight=overeating” mode. There may be interesting information there from a human behavioral and eating disorder viewpoint, but it’s hard to know with all the assumptions in the way.

    Love2Eat, I did the quiz too. I was amused by the first question (“I find myself thinking about food even when I’m not physically hungry”) because one of my hunger cues is that I find myself thinking about food!

    I did find the quiz frustrating because many of the questions (If I see or smell a food I like, I get a powerful urge to have some; When I know a delicious food is available, I can’t help myself from thinking about having some; etc) depend on whether or not I’m hungry. So I went ahead and answered them as if I was full (which I am, lunch was just 2 hours ago) and came out at 1.5.

    (This also relates to an ongoing thing between me and the hubby. He likes to plan meals in advance. If I’m not hungry, I have very little interest. Plus, in the morning I find the idea of many dinner foods nauseating. He … does not find any of this helpful.)

    I also found “I love the taste of certain foods so much that I can’t avoid eating them even if they’re bad for me” confusing. Does the author honestly mean “you’d eat something you’re allergic to with Benadryl/Epi-pen at the ready?” Or that it’s too caloric? This was really unclear to me.


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